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20 July, 2003

Ice walk, polar bears and walrus-Oh my!

Wow,wow,wow,wow,wow! What an absolutely awesome day!

Just when I had given up hope of seeing ice as the last CTD was done outside Barrow, Alaska, thus completing our science part of the voyage. And as I was getting ready to resort to dumping a bucket of ice overboard and photographing it as "ice in the Arctic" the Captain graciously decides to turn north and go ice hunting.

It wasn't too far off the coastline when we began to encounter our first small frozen floating sculptures gliding past us like frosty ghost pirate ships. The further we continued the more ice encountered. The numbers increased, as did the size of the ice pieces.

The Laurier trudged through the ice casting the white weathered obstacles aside like swimming pool toys. By 4:00 AM after snapping almost 75 icy portraits I decided to get some sleep. I had three personal wishes when I came on this trip, to see ice, to catch a glimpse of a polar bear and to view a walrus. Wish one came true.

"Polar bears off the port bow!" Did I really hear that or was I dreaming? I made my way to the helicopter flight deck and spotted them, two polar predators running away from us, occasionally glancing back at the ship. Polar bears are considered marine mammals and spend the majority of their lives on the frozen ice floes searching primarily for seals. To see two of them in the wild was awesome! Wish two comes true!

As we traveled further the ice got thicker and more compact causing the Laurier to pitch and roll and it crushed through. The broken ice scrapped along the sides of the ship and bounced beneath her hull before popping up along the sides in a frothy concoction. From there it bobbed up and down and danced against the sides until it settled down and gently flowed past.

By 10:30 at latitude North 71.409 degrees and longitude West 157.164 degrees the Captain had found what he was looking for-stable ice. The Laurier wedged itself into the solid section and a ladder was lowered onto the frozen surface for our 30-minute shore leave.

Ice golf, ice Frisbee, even Arctic sumo wrestling quickly ate away the time amongst the hundreds of Kodak moments. Then with the crew back on board the Laurier slowly backed up and eased its way around and headed to Barrow.

Two out of three wishes is great and I couldn't have been more content. I even joked with Pete and Nathan that it was beginning to feel like Disney with an attraction every hour but would really top the day off would be walrus.

Less than ten minutes later an announcement rang throughout the ship "walrus directly in front of the bow!" I ran to the bow of the ship and scanned the horizon to find not just one or two but about a dozen, a twelve pack of those wrinkle-skinned masters of the ice. Thirty more photos, I wanted to capture every lovable inch of these tusked, whiskered masses of blubber and I did until they slid into the cold Arctic water. Wish three, granted.

As we dropped anchor off of Point Barrow we could see the Antarctica research vessel "Palmer" on the eastern horizon conducting Arctic research for the first time. A gray whale about three hundred feet off the starboard bow made the ending to a great day a magical one.

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